Book Review Roundup I
I am pleased to inaugurate a new column here on Torah Musings where we will be reviewing a number of new books.
Reviews by Rabbi Ari Enkin
The Legacy: Teachings for Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis
By Rabbis Berel Wein & Warren Goldstein
Maggid (Koren) / 215 pp
The Legacy: Teachings For Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis is a handbook on what it means to live a life of derech eretz through the lens of the Lithuanian giants such as: Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the Netziv, the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, the Alter of Kelm, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz and many more. It is full of anecdotes and vignettes from the life of these great sages as well as from the Talmud and Chazal that really “drive home” the message on how to live as a Jew; both on the individual level as well as the communal one. Key middot such as: tolerance, honesty, integrity, humility, and peace are discussed and dissected. There is one common denominator throughout the book: Menschlechkeit.
The book opens with a chapter on how the great sages of Lithuanian were all men of tolerance and peace – even with those whom they philosophically opposed. Whether it was the Zionists, Marxists, mussarists and what not — all disagreements were handled in a dignified manner. I’d wager that Rabbi Wein, the author of this first chapter, intended for some veiled criticism for those who claim to be the successors of these people yet have become intolerant, if not ruthless, towards those who disagree with their ways. I would suggest that Rabbi Warren Goldstein does something similar in his chapter on Eirlichkeit with today’s obsession with external sign of piety and frumkeit.
Every chapter reads like a motivational self-help guide in becoming a better person making The Legacy a heartwarming and moving modern-day mussar sefer. Readers will explore what proper yashrut, hakarat hatov, honesty, yuhara, Kiddush Hashem, and even appearance and hygiene are all about. The pitfalls of chumrot and their possible negative effects on others is also a topic that readers will be made to reckon with,
Especially welcome is the historical review of the Mussar and Yeshiva movements such as the founding of yeshivot such as Telz, Slobodka, Radin, Beth Medrash Gavoha and more. Included in the historical review is some of the criticism that was leveled against the original Litvishe yeshivot. One of these criticisms were “yeshivas encouraged intellectual prowess over piety of behavior and prayer; they were therefore over elitist and bred arrogance and hubris in their students” – an issue I wish I had the time and space to elaborate upon.
The Legacy is gentle, moving, and authoritative. A wonderful book that is full of information, ethics, and wisdom.
Living the Halachic Process Vol. II
Kollel Eretz Hemdah / 381 pp.
Edited by: Rabbi Daniel Mann
Living the Halachic Process Vol. II, like the first volume, is a collection of halachic questions that have been posed to the rabbinic staff of Kollel Eretz Hemdah from rabbis and layman alike from all over the world. The book presents well over 100 of such contemporary halachic issues, many of which are especially exciting and relevant. There are many ambiguous and lesser-known halachic issues that are just not dealt with anywhere else, particularly not in the English language, to which guidance, advice and psak are rendered. To give but a few examples, there are questions on Tefilla, Shabbat, Holidays, Kashrut, Tzedaka, Monetary law, the mentally challenged, and much much more.
Some of the halachic rulings include: The kaddish following the kriat hatorah should be recited by the ba’al koray though there is justification for the widespread custom of delegating it to a mourner, it is unclear how often hikers should recite a blessing on their water/beverages, one may not violate Torah prohibitions on Shabbat to save an animal, cholent bags are o.k., one can give a gift on Shabbat by ensuring compliance with a few simple procedures, it is permitted to use Hashem’s name when singing zemirot, those allergic to matza may not have to eat any, stringency is advised in fish/meat combinations, non-Jews may deliver your mishlo’ach manot, there is no heter to use a utensil “just once” before tevila, think twice before getting a dog, no need for a ritual washing when leaving the bathroom, avoid jewelry and clothing that contain pesukim, children should not administer injections on their parents lest they violate the prohibition against wounding a parent, the clothes of a deceased is ok – avoid their shoes, though.
Unfortunately, very few opinions and ma’arei mekomot are provided which might leave the seasoned halachicst unsatisfied. Indeed, the presentation style is quite informal and introductory in nature which leads one to believe that the primarily intended audience are ba’alei teshuva and those with a weaker background in learning and observance. Nevertheless, this sefer is unique and stands apart from the normative and predictable English halacha sefarim that are common today. Even the more advanced reader will enjoy the issues and discussions contained in this sefer.
Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (5 Vol.) and the General Editor and Halacha columnist at Torahmusings.com. He welcomes books for review on the Torah Musings website. [email protected]
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